As she watched Quincy lead her cousin into the forest toward adventure, Tate felt the desire to go with them like an ache in her chest. Instead, she turned with her aunt and uncle and headed to the training paddock. And the mundane.
The tai chi session came to a finish as she neared. Aunt Olivia led the children to their lessons as Uncle James joined her father and Uncle Gabriel near the weights. Aunt Amber watched her approach as she wiped her face with a towel.
“You need to stretch?” her aunt asked. She was never one for idle chit-chat.
“Nah,” Tate replied. “I did my warm-up routines earlier.”
“Cool. Why don’t you and Tiege pair up? I’ll get everyone else set up with their weapons and then we’ll see how you’re coming along with your new form.”
“Okay.” She glanced at her brother as he finished drinking some water and strode toward her.
“Ready for some hand-to-hand?” she asked.
“You mean am I ready to kick your ass?” he returned with a grin. “You bet.” When she didn’t return his smile or give a snarky rejoinder, his grin faded. “You’re still upset that Mom and Dad said no?”
She shrugged. He already knew the answer. They knew each other as well as any two individuals possibly could.
“You know it’s a lousy idea, Tate,” he pointed out pragmatically. “We have no idea what things are really like away from home.”
That was exactly her point, she thought in growing frustration as she glanced at the break in the trees where Quincy and her cousin disappeared. She didn’t have any idea what it was like out there. And she very much wanted to.
“You’d only get yourself into trouble,” Tiege continued as he twisted sideways in another stretch. “Your skills aren’t sharp enough.”
That set her temper to a fiery pitch. She was sick and tired of the lack of faith in her abilities. How on the entire Estilorian plane could anyone know she would fail to protect herself if she’d never been given the chance to prove it?
Just as she opened her mouth to retort, she noticed her parents as well as her aunts and uncles stop their activities and look alertly toward the path leading from Uncle Gabriel and Aunt Amber’s house. They all instinctively moved into defensive positions and exchanged glances, and she knew they were sharing thoughts. Tiege also moved into a defensive position, standing in front of her as everyone gathered near them.
Tate watched as the class elders, Jabari, Uriel, Zayna, Malukali, Sebastian and Knorbis appeared on the path. Only the elders could find the enchanted location of the three homes without assistance, as they had been involved in creating the powerful protections. Tate wondered about the meaning behind their arrival. Because it hadn’t been announced, it surely meant something significant.
As curious as she was, though, she couldn’t help but notice that everyone’s attention centered on them and not on her.
Her parents and her aunts and uncles left the training paddock to approach the elders. Her cousin, Joshua, walked up to Tiege and nudged him with his elbow, and the two of them exchanged theories while they watched the adults converse. Tate saw her father look back at them briefly before turning his attention back to the elders.
Seeing her chance, Tate took a couple of tentative steps backward, closer to the forest where Quincy and Sophia had left. She glanced around to see if anyone noticed. When she confirmed that everyone was looking elsewhere, she took a few more steps away from them.
Was she really going to do this?
Her heart pounded. She looked to the forest. Then she glanced again at her family. She could prove to them with one little trip away from the protected area that she really was capable of taking care of herself.
She made her decision.
Making as little noise as she could and moving as carefully as she dared to avoid detection, she eased away from the group and slipped into the forest. With a silent farewell to her family, she hurried off to find Quincy and Sophia, her smile wide in anticipation of the adventure that lay ahead.
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